by Joel Bates
We sat quietly in the thick darkness of one of my favorite church sanctuaries—the depths of a cave nestled in a backcountry corner of southern Missouri. I began my devotional talk differently. Not the usual, powerful illustrations of light and dark or even a theme of the mire of sin and darkness. I began with Psalm 46. Compelled by the Holy Spirit, I spoke to men I barely knew. I was neither poised behind a pulpit nor able to even see my audience, but I felt certain about Psalm 46. That’s when the Lord began to teach me.
Standing there before salt of the earth men; men with real faith and real trials; men with broken relationships and brutal failings; men who wanted to project strength but mostly felt like wimps; typical Christian men; I realized my own insufficiency. Sure I was the guide, but even my light source that got me here was not my own. In the pitch black where my eyes were useless, mingled with their burdens my uncertainties of my life collided with an awareness of my totally inability. Thankful for the darkness which hid my tears, I spoke. What was designed to teach others, became a lesson for us all: That to really know the living God requires our stillness amid crisis, and though we are used to being in control and manipulating resources, we have little of our own.
Psalm 46 paints a rather horrific scene at first. Earthquakes toss mountains into huge storm-surged seas, and the ocean simply swallows these massive monoliths before the eyes of fragile man. That kind of power would totally absorb our thoughts, emotions.
We are captivated by power. We want it and even believe sometimes that we contain true power within ourselves. Maybe this is why we love to watch super heroes pose as normal people, with inner, godlike power. I, like the rest of America, can’t seem to get enough of the Marvel cinematic universe where all those powerful Avengers of evil chuck villains through windows with ease, smash up top secret bases of the enemy, and take a fall from a 50-story high-rise, only to jump up and shake off the dust to keep demolishing the foe. The silver screen is able to depict seismic destruction and colossal havoc similar to the picture in Psalm 46…but Hollywood is not real. At the end of the day, we are still puny people with big problems.
The psalm continues with a description of wars and worldly conflicts, the rise and fall of nations, and the peoples of the world who rage on and on. But our sovereign God is here, too, ending wars and bringing nations to their knees. Sandwiched in between the geographical calamities of Psalm 46, the planet and the power, peril, and ravages of nations, lies a holy metropolis where God’s people reside. This beautiful city has a river that springs forth from her midst, watering the land and bringing gladness to the hearts of those who dwell there. The scripture says God is in the “midst of the city,” and He will not allow it to be moved. It seems that from this river town, the inhabitants can see the despair and destruction all around their borders and are called upon to practice faith amidst trials of various kinds (Jas 1:2), fixing eyes on heavenly hope, godly good, and the Savior Jesus (Heb 12:2).
In that dark and wild cave, the psalmist’s words rested on our small, blind band of brothers. We could all relate to the encumbrances of trying to navigate through a pandemic, dealing with the loss of freedoms, providing for people in our care, and pressing against the incessant whispers of Satan that “God doesn’t like you,” or “You’ll never be good enough.” Then the part of the psalm that impacted me the most came at the end. “Be still, and know that I am God.” I want to know God, but I don’t always know how to perpetuate the relationship. I take my eyes off Him in the midst of the seismic, the warring, the overwhelming and incomprehensible, but here, in a cool, dark and quiet cave; here at the end of my resources; here tucked into the last verse of Psalm 46, I discovered the foundation.
In the stillness, we knew. We raised open hands and knew God was there. We held out our burdens and knew He would take them. We uttered humble prayers and knew God was listening. In that peaceful place we released the impossible task of saving ourselves and knew the truth; Jesus already did that long ago on a hill of death, surrounded by scoffers, under a storm-streaked sky. Now, because of Christ, when the storms of life rage, all God’s people really have to do is “be still and know."
Come along side us as we journey in and out of the wilderness, discovering our Creator in creation.